The Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme started in earnest for the Thames Chase Community Tree Nursery in 2019, when a Business Plan was created outlining Thames Chase Trust’s ambitions for the site and how the Land of the Fanns Scheme would be integral in the (re)development, maintenance, public engagement, and legacy of the site. The Thames Chase Community Tree Nursery had been slowly degrading over the past several years, due to several factors including a lack of volunteer engagement, staff time, public interest, and capital funds. The Land of the Fanns Scheme, the Greater London Authority fund, and Thames Chase Trust committed to changing that.
It started with the employment of a full-time staff member. They would be dedicated to the tree nursery, focusing on physical improvements, growing potential sales contacts using the Land of the Fanns network such as the Environment Working Group, restarting the tree nursery volunteer group and integrating the tree nursery more succinctly into Thames Chase Trust. They would restart wider public engagement, with youth group visits, school visits and tree sales to public at the Forest Centre; teaching, learning and growing.
March 2020 of course, altered the plan. But rather than decay, fall to ruin and rot, the tree nursery grew. Not quickly, like Hazel or Blackthorn, but slowly, like Oak or Holly. The newly employed staff member and the Land of the Fanns team continued communicating, strategizing for when the public would be allowed to return, for when volunteer groups would be welcomed into the tree nursery once more. As soon as they were allowed, contractors came on to site. Working social distanced they created new paths and raised beds, while strengthening existing ones. Spring sprung in April, and plants were moved around, order and structure given to the space. And so it continued, volunteers returned, working hard to keep down the weeds, to water the growing saplings, lockdowns and social distancing ever present.
Time passed. The saplings grew. The online meetings with the Land of the Fanns team became in-person. Sitting outside in the tree nursery, enjoying a cup of tea and the new space that had been regenerated. Support from the project covered everything. Finance, new volunteers through advertisement and engagement with the public, planning of the challenges ahead through discussions and meetings, and much more. Advice on interpretation boards, linking to new partners to provide the fresh saplings to, partners with a genuine care and interest in where their stock came from.
Today, the Thames Chase Community Tree Nursery has in the region of between 3,000 and 3,500 saplings, our spring stock-take not quite finished. It has a resolute, hardworking weekly group of volunteers, as well as an equally resolute and hardworking once a month weekend group. During spring a different youth group visits each week, full of inquisitive, eager young people. Summer brings warm weather and fantastic volunteer sessions under the sun. In autumn, family seed collecting events take place, to teach attendees about where seeds come from and why we should care for them. Winter requests for saplings are consistent, with much of the stock finding new, permanent homes very quickly.
To ask what the Land of the Fanns legacy is for the Thames Chase Community Tree Nursery is not a question easily answered with words or pictures. It requires one to see it. To visit the site and talk to the volunteers about why they attend every week, all weathers. To organise a youth group visit and hear the children talking excitably about the seeds they are taking home to grow, about what they learnt that day. To see the saplings growing week after week, then providing them to committed partners to plant the right tree in the right place. The legacy of the Land of the Fanns project for the Thames Chase Community Tree Nursery, is the very existence of the Thames Chase Community Tree Nursery. And nothing less.
Alex Hewitt, Programmes Officer, Thames Chase Trust